Archive for the ‘Starters’ category

Gravlax (cured raw salmon)

August 25, 2013

I believe this dish is Swedish in origin, certainly Scandinavian. It is similar in some ways to traditional lox (cold smoked salmon) except that is it just cured, not smoked. Most recipes I have seen call for curing a whole fish, or at least a whole fillet, a process that takes several days. You then slice it thinly for serving. Excellent, but this recipe starts with thin pieces of fish and requires only about half a day of cure – a real bonus when you are pressed for time. I am not sure this is truly traditional as I do not see olives and olive oil being common in Sweden hundreds of years ago! One piece of this makes a nice appetizer, two make a light main course. Buttered toast is traditionally served with this, but rye bread, crackers, etc. can all be used.


One half-pound salmon fillet of highest quality
2 tsp salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 TB finely chopped shallots
2 TB chopped oil-cured black olives
2 TB best olive oil
1 TB chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
1 TB lemon juice

Carefully remove the skin, bones, and sinews from the salmon. Cut into 4 equal pieces. Put a piece between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and gently pound with a meat tenderizer or heavy jar until quite thin, 1/8 inch or less – this fish will actually be translucent. Set aside, still in the plastic wrap. Repeat with the other pieces of fish.

Set out 4 small or 2 large plates depending on how you plan to serve the gravlax.

Remove the top piece of plastic wrap from the pounded fish (the fish will be sort of fragile, so be careful). Mix the salt and pepper together and sprinkle half of it evenly over the fish (all 4 pieces). Invert the fish onto the plates, salted side down, and peel off the remaining plastic wrap. Sprinkle the rest of the salt and pepper over, Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Prepare the remaining ingredients, running the shallots under hot tap water for a moment to remove some of the harsh taste.

Half an hour before serving, take fish out of the fridge (tastes better if not icy-cold), remove the wrap, and sprinkle the olives, shallots, oil, and parsley over. Don’t add the lemon juice now or the acid will “cook” the fish and make it opaque (this is the principle behind ceviche, the South American dish of raw seafood that is “cooked” with an acid marinade). Just before serving, add the lemon juice (or pass lemon wedges at the table).

Note: Never throw away raw salmon skin! Brush lightly with soy or teriyaki sauce and broil quickly until a bit crisp for a lovely treat.

Caponata – Sicilian eggplant relish

August 21, 2013

This Sicilian eggplant/onion relish has a slight sweet and sour taste and is SOOO good! Serve on bread or crackers or just eat with a fork. I think it’s best at room temperature.



2 large eggplants, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 TB salt
3 celery ribs, diced
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large onions, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3c capers, drained and briefly rinsed
1/2c pitted and sliced green olives
1/3c red wine vinegar
2 TB granulated sugar
1 28oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes (drained if using diced)
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
olive oil
pine nuts (optional)

Toss the diced eggplant with 1 TB salt and let sit for at least an hour. Discard any liquid that accumulates, but do not rinse.

Put 1/2c olive oil in a a large saute pan with a cover and cook the eggplant over medium high heat, stirring often, until lightly browned. If needed, do in 2 batches using 1/4c oil for each batch. Remove to a bowl.

Add 2 TB olive oil to the same pan and cook the onion for a few minutes. Add the garlic and cook until onion and garlic are lightly browned. Leave in the pan.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and cook the diced celery for a minute. Drain and add to the pan with the onion. Add the tomatoes, cover, and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Combine the sugar and vinegar in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve. Warm in the microwave if needed to help the sugar dissolve. Add to the onion/tomato mixture along with the eggplant and red pepper. Add a few grindings of black pepper. Don’t add salt at this time because the salting of the eggplants may have provided enough, plus you’ll be adding salty capers and olives. Simmer slowly, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are tender. Stir in the olives and capers and simmer for another moment. Adjust salt if needed. Let cool before serving, or refrigerate for up to a week.

Before serving, put the desired amount of pine nuts in a small, dry fry pan and cook, shaking, over medium heat until toasted a light brown. Watch these carefully as they can overcook quickly. Stir into the caponata, or sprinkle on top, then serve.

Marinated roasted red peppers

July 3, 2011

These are a little bit of work, but so vastly better than the jarred peppers you can buy. Even when you’ve eaten all the peppers you’ll be sopping up the last oil with your bread, it’s that good.

Use the long Italian sweet red peppers (see photo). Make sure they’re nicely ripe and nice and “meaty.” The recipe can be doubled. Note that the amounts for ingredients are all estimates – it’s be subtly different each time and you’ll soon figure out just how you like it.

Take 4 or 5 large Italian red sweet peppers, washed and dried. Start a charcoal fire and get it as hot as you can—the coals should be glowing cherry red. Grill the peppers over the fire, as shown here.

Roasting red peppers

Roasting red peppers

Turn occasionally until they are charred black over almost the entire surface. This will take about 10-15 minutes, depending on your fire. The ones in the photo have just started to cook.

Put the finished peppers in a brown paper bag and seal the top. Let sit for about 15 minutes – this steaming makes them easier to peel. Then, peel all the charred skin off—this is important because it tastes awful. Resist the temptation to rinse the peppers, you’ll just wash the flavorful juices off. We find the the combination of a sharp paring knife and a small wad of damp paper towel works well. There’s no doubt that the peeling is a bother, but it gets a lot easier once you’ve done it a few times. Then, remove and discard the stems and seeds and cut each pepper into pieces 2-3 inches in size (not critical).

You’ll need a small flat-bottomed container that will hold the peppers in 4-5 layers.

Have the following at hand:

6 anchovy fillets cut in small pieces
1 TB chopped fresh oregano
1 TB capers packed in brine, drained and rinsed
1 TB minced or thinly sliced  fresh garlic
salt, black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, about 2/3 c

Put a thin drizzle of olive oil in the bottom of the dish and cover with a single layer of pepper strips. Sprinkle about 1/4 of the anchovies, oregano, capers, and garlic over the peppers followed by a grinding of pepper, a small sprinkle of salt, and more oil. Here’s what it looks like partially assembled. Repeat additional layers until all the peppers and other ingredients are used up.

Marinated peppers

Putting the dish together

When finished, make sure everything is covered with oil. It doesn’t have to be swimming in oil, just covered. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for a few hours. You can eat it now, but it’ll be better if it marinates for a couple of days in the fridge. Let come to room temp before serving.

Eggplant and white bean “hummis”

June 16, 2011

This is great as a dip or spread for flat breads, crackers, veggies, etc. The proportions do not need to be precise.

1 large eggplant
2 c cooked white beans such as canneloni, navy, etc. (one 15-19 oz can)
2 small or 1 large garlic cloves
1/2 c Italian parsley leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
pinch of cayenne pepper
2/3 c olive oil, divided

Peel the eggplant and cut into 1 inch cubes. Mix with half the olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees until soft and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

Drain and rinse the beans. Put in a food processor with the eggplant, garlic (crushed thru a press), parsley, lemon juice. and cayenne. Start the machine and slowly drizzle in the remaining 1/3 c olive oil until you have a smooth paste, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Taste and correct salt if needed. Let sit for at least an hour before serving, to let the flavors meld. Best at room temperature.

Chinese pot stickers / gyoza

April 23, 2011

These are easy to make if you buy the wrappers, and they freeze well. Cooking directions and a dipping sauce recipe are below.

1 lb ground pork
1/2 lb nappa cabbage
2 TB Shoaxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp sesame oil
4 scallions, white and most of the green, finely minced
1 tsp ground white pepper
1-1/2 tsp salt
2 packages gyoza wrappers*

Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water for about a minute. Drain and refresh with cold water. Using your hand, squeeze out as much of the water as you can and chop finely. Put in a large bowl.

Add 1/4 of the pork (still raw) to chopped cabbage along with the salt, pepper, scallions, sesame oil, and 1 TB of the wine.

Cook the remaining pork in a wok or fry pan until separated and just cooked through, adding the remaining 1 TB wine and 1/2 tsp salt during the cooking. Let cool a bit and add to the bowl and mix well.

In 2 batches, put the mixture in a food processor and zap once or twice, for no longer than a couple of seconds total. The ensures the mixture is well blended and gives it a slightly finer texture. You do not want to puree it or even come close.

Place a wrapper on a flat surface and put a spoonful of mixture in the center (the “teaspoon” that you typically use for tea or coffee). Do not overfill – you’ll get a feel for the amount of filling to use after making a few. With a wet finger, moisten the edge of the wrapper 1/2 of the way around then fold it in half and press the edges together. Try not to trap air inside. As you make the gyoza, place them on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet, not touching each other. Place in the freezer, uncovered, to freeze and then transfer to zip-loc bags for storage.

* Available frozen in all oriental groceries. These are thin disks of dough about 2-1/2 inches across, about 50 to a package. You can use wonton wrappers, but they are thicker and not, IMO, as good. Thaw overnight in the fridge before use.


These can be simmered or steamed, but IMO the best way is to combine simmering and sautéing so each gyoza will have a slightly crispy bottom. You need a non-stick frypan big enough to hold the gyoza in one layer.

Put a bit of vegetable oil in the pan, just a thin layer. Add the frozen gyoza and distribute evenly. Then add enough water to partially cover the gyoza — about half-covered. Put over medium heat, bring to a gentle boil, cover the pan, and cook until the water is almost all gone, shaking the pan occasionally. Remove the cover and cook until the water is all gone and the gyoza start to sizzle. Cook for another few minutes until the bottom is nicely browned.

Dipping sauce

There are endless variations on this, and I encourage you to experiment.

The basic sauce is fine as it is. Mix together:

1/2 c soy sauce (Kikkoman’s is excellent)
1 tsp roasted sesame oil
1/2 to 1 tsp hot pepper flakes in oil, depending on your taste

You can also embellish the basic sauce with one or more of the following:

1 TB finely chopped scallions
1 tsp grated ginger
1 small clove garlic put thru a press
1 TB rice vinegar

Deep fried tuna bites

April 22, 2011

For a nice presentation,serve this on finely grated daikon radish on top of a lettuce leaf.

Yellowfin or other tuna cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 c Japanese soy sauce (Kikkoman is excellent)
1 tsp wasabi powder
1/2 tsp honey
potato starch, corn starch, or arrowroot starch
Oil for deep frying

Dissolve the wasabi in the soy sauce and brush on the tuna, refrigerate for 1/2 hour. Mix the remaining soy/wasabi with the honey – this will be your dipping sauce. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Roll the tuna chunks in the starch, shake off excess, fry for a bare 20-30 seconds – you want the outside crisp and the inside still rare.

Cauliflower pakoras

April 21, 2011

This Indian dish makes a great appetizer or part of a larger meal. See below for a variant using onion.

3/4 c besan (chick pea flour)
1/4 c rice flour
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
appx 1 c water
appx 2 c raw cauliflower broken into bite-sized pieces
Peanut or other oil for deep frying

Mix the first 6 ingredients and enough water to create a batter that is the consistency of heavy cream or perhaps a little thicker. Mix with the cauliflower making sure each piece is completely coated. Heat oil to 350f and drop pieces individually into the oil, making sure they don’t stick together. Fry until deep golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Drain and serve with tamarind and other chutneys.

Onion pakoras: Make the pakora batter from cauliflower pakoras (above) but make it a bit thicker. Add 1-1/2c chopped raw onions for each cup of batter. Use 2 spoons to drop 2 TB sized dollops into 350f oil. Fry until golden brown.

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